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Fast facts: The Herero of Namibia

  
  

The world can’t seem to get enough of the Herero fashion, thanks to the launch of the book by photographer Jim Naughten, “Conflict and Costume”. But it's not just their clothing that makes them fascinating. Here are some interesting facts about the Herero culture and how you can encounter them on your next trip in Namibia.

Herero, herero fashion, herero dress, herero namibia, herero culture, namibian culture, culture in namibia, conflict and costume

A Herero woman outside her home in Mondesa Township 


Fast Facts

  • Language: Otjiherero (Bantu language) 

  • Population: over 130,000 Herero-speaking Namibians

  • Factions: The Herero propers with the traditional chiefdoms of Maharer (Okahandja), Zeraua (Omaruru) and Kambazembi (Waterberg); The Ndamuranda; The Tjimba Herero of Kaokoland; The Mabanderu in eastern Namibia; Other smaller factions in northern Kunene and south-western Angola

  • The Herero are a pastoral cattle-breeding people

  • In the German Herero War of 1904-1907, the entire Herero population was almost decimated. But with great resiliency, the Herero persevered and today rank among Namibia’s best cattle farmers and businessmen. 

Cultures and Beliefs

  • It is believed they formerly lived in a country with water and reeds, known as Roruu, however no one has succeeded in tracing this legendary African marshland...

  • The Herero follow two religions - Christianity and their traditional "Holy Fire" (ancestral fire through which they communicate with their ancestors)

  • A person’s status in the family hierarchy, the place of abode, and traditions, are determined by the paternal line, oruzo. But control and distribution of all movable propert is determined by the maternal line, eanda.

  • They are polygamous, although the first wife is allowed to choose subsequent wives!

  • The holy cattle (ozohivirikwa) are the inspiration behind the women’s headdress, its two points symbolising cattle horns.


Where to encounter the Herero in Namibia

  • Take a walk through Windhoek, the capital city of Namibia, and you are sure to see them about their daily tasks – with many of them adorned in their traditional garments, they’ll be hard to miss.

  • Take a tour of Mondesa township, outside Swkaopmund, with Hata Angu Cultural Tours

  • Visit Okahandja on the annual Herero Festival on Maharero Day. It takes place every year on the Sunday closest to August 23, the day on which Herero chief Samuel Maharero's body was returned to Okahandja in 1923. Various units of paramilitary organisations parade before their leaders in full dress through the streets. 

 

Some useful links

  • Namibia is home to a host of different people and cultures. Find out more about them here.

  • In case you missed all the buzz about Jim Naughten’s book “Conflict and Costume”, you can read about it on The Guardian Newspaper, Time Magazine and Slate Magazine.

  • Take note of these handy tips for photographing local cultures in Namibia.

 

 

Some of these facts have been sourced from Namibia Holiday & Travel. Download the iPhone and iPad app for free. Or contact Travel News Namibia to purchase a hard copy. 

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EXTREME NAMIBIA - One of Africa's LARGEST Concentrations of Rock Art

  
  

This is the last of our EXTREME NAMIBIA blog posts! In this weekly series we have explored some of our country's extremes, and shared with you practical information on how you can come and discover them for yourself.

In the bleak expanse of Damaraland, huge red sandstone boulders are piled high against deep orange cliffs - a dramatic sight even before you take a step closer and discover what has been etched onto the surface of these rocks. This is Twyfelfontein - home to over 2,500 unique engravings (some estimates are as many as 5,000) and numerous paintings, believed to date back some 6,000 years. Twyfelfontein has attracted people for millenia thanks to the presence of water. The Khoekhoe - ancestors of the San - named the site /Ui-//Ais, meaning "permanent spring". The current name, Twyfelfontein, means "doubtful spring" in Afrikaans, suggesting a less reliable source of water.

Twyfelfontein is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and must-see for any visitors to Damaraland, as the engravings have much to teach us about Namibia's earliest inhabitants, their beliefs and the wildlife that was found here.

Twyfelfontein

Reading the Stones: The Art of the San

At first glance, the engravings and rock paintings found at Twyfelfontein are similar to prehistoric rock art found around the world. Figures, footprints, strange geometric shapes and animal-like figures cover the stones, telling the story of hunter and prey. But what is unique about Twyfelfontein is that the ancestors of the people who created these works are still living. Although life has changed for them, they still share similar beliefs, rituals, hunting techniques and understandings of the world around them - allowing us a unique insight into the meaning behind the rock art, and what our ancestors were trying to say.

Here are some of the stories behind one of the largest rock art sites in Africa.

The San are able to put themselves into trances by means of dancing and hyperventilation. This is often carried out by a shaman, who will perform various acts while in this "spirit world", such as healing and making rain. Much of the rock art is believed to be depictions of what the shaman saw while in the spirit world. This is also why many of the engravings are positioned next to fissures and crevasses - it was believed they were entrance points to the supernatural world.

One of the most famous figures in Twyfelfontein is the Lion Man. This lion has five toes on each foot (instread of four), and at the end of his bent tail is what looks like a human hand. The Lion Man represents a human who has turned into a lion while in the spirit world. A giraffe with five "horns" is also believed to be a Giraffe-Man. However, the four-headed ostrich is believes to be a very early example of "animation"!

Twyfelfontein Lion Man 

You may be confused by the images of seals, dolphins and penguins! However, these creatures were never present here; instead, the San travelled over 100km to the coast to collect salt, and drew what they saw while there.

Twyfelfontein seal

Some of the engravings may have been used to educate - children could learn to track animals by looing at the footprints etched into the rocks, and engravings of pregnant animals - such as the "Dancing Kudu" - indicated which ones not to hunt. An early example of conervation, perhaps?!

Twyfelfontein Facts:

  • The sandstone rocks here are around 180 million years old. When fissures developed and they separated from the main cliff, they were left with almost perfectly flat faces - making them ideal for engraving and painting.

  • The engravings were discovered by topographer Reinhard Maak in 1921. He also discovered the famous White Lady painting at Brandberg.

  • The San inhabited this area until the 1930s - when they were moved on by Damara herdsmen.

  • Twyfelfontein became Namibia's first UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.

Practical Information:

  • Twyfelfontein is open from 8am-5pm, visitors in summer should aim to arrive early in the morning as it cann get very hot and there is no shade. This is also the best time for photography. Entry is N$30 for adults and N$25 for children.

  • A 30-minute trail near the visitors' centre can be completed independently, though there is no information about the engravings. Longer trails must be completed with a guide (included in the entrance fee).

  • Visitors should bring a hat, walking shoes, sunscreen and a long-sleeved shirt.

  • Sites of interest near Twyfelfontein include the Organ Pipes,Burnt MountainDoros Crater, and the Petrified Forest.

  • Nearby accommodation includes Twyfelfontein Country Lodge, Camp Kipwe, Madisa Campsite and Mowani Mountain Camp.


THE NIGHTSHIFT: What lurks in the darkness of Namibia?

  
  

As the sun sets over Namibia's endless horizons, the stars light the way across the grasslands, wetlands and deserts. Creatures that lie sleeping in the scorching heat of the day awaken, and a new world emerges...

Spellbinding video of the Namibian Nights by Marsel van Oosten, from Squiver on Vimeo 

Night falls on the barren deserts

And with it, the temperature drops dramatically. The cool breeze brings a taste of fog to the air. The sound of a thousand barking geckos echoes through the dunes. The noise is intoxicating, as they use the crevices between rocks as trumpets to amplify the calls. The dancing white lady spider tap-dances across the sand, while the scorpions begin a dance of their own, as the male lures the female out of her burrow. The dunes are shifting under the feet many insects, arachnids and reptiles looking for food. There are larger carnivores out and about too. Among them is the ratel, or honey badger. He is bathing in the cool sand under the stars. When he’s done, he’ll begin the night hunt. A deadly snake for dinner, perhaps? The brown hyena is roaming the west coast where the desert meets the ocean, giving him the name strandwolf or “wolf of the beach”. Travelling 25-35 kms in a single night, he trawls the coastline by the light of the moon for scraps of seals and seabirds thrown back to land by the sea.

National Geographic archive video, tracking the night adventures of Kleinman the reckless honey badger 

There's a rustle in the floodplains 

In the Kavango, along the ever-changing Okavango river, you can hear the snorts and grunts of hippos on the move. They have left the river for the evening to forage for food. A hippo fight under the moonlight is a common night sight. But that odd smell is not the hippos, it is the flowers of the terminalia sericea or vaalboom. The night has brought a feast of moths and insects. Nightjars follow suit, letting out a beautiful lilting whistle, flying amidst the Lapwings and other birds of the night.

A thriller in the grasslands

 

The sound of the jackal haunts the night sky. You can’t always see him, but knowing he is on the hunt and listening to his blood-curdling cry will make your spine tingle. A kudu barks. Is he looking for a mate or is he just scared? The snakes have slithered onto the open roads to soak up the last heat of the day. As if on cue, an owl swoops past and lets out a mighty screech.

The big game is on the move. Sitting around a waterhole at night, you can watch as elephants, giraffe, rhino, zebras and all types of buck emerge from the darkness for an evening drink. Or take a night drive to catch a glimpse of the smaller creatures invisible by day – porcupines, pangolins, aardvark and genets.

On a full moon, the landscapes are lit up as clear as day. The usual night predators – like the caracal, leopards and hyenas - have lost their cloak of darkness. With the element of surprise gone, smaller creatures pluck up the courage to come out to forage. And on such a full moon you may be lucky enough to see the wild dogs of Africa make a rare appearance.

In the early summer months you can feel the shudder of thunder in the pit of your stomach as the clouds roll across the plains. The lightning bolts light up all four corners of the night sky. The first rains fill the evening with the smell of dust and grass and fresh damp – a glorious smell you will never want to forget. The crickets crrick-crrick in the distance as a symphony of giant African bull frogs chime in. In the winter months, when the frolicking and hubbub of mating season has died down, the silence of the bush is just as deafening.

lightning namibia, rain namibia, thunder storm namibia

Lightning illuminates the Namibian skies

rhino africa, elephant africa, giraffe africa, etosha namibia, namibia

Game creeps to the waterholes

Wherever you find yourself in Namibia, sit back in your chair or lie on the grass, watch the stars, breathe in deeply and listen to the world around you. You can almost feel the eyes of a thousand wild souls watching you in the dead of the night. And it feels magical.

 

Ideas for Namibian nights in the wild

  • Many of the private reserves, such as Ongava Lodges and Okonjima, offer night-drives and ‘flood-lit’ water holes. Ask your lodge for more details when making the booking.
  • For the bird lovers, why not try night bird watching to see some of the 430 species of birds at Shamvura camp in the Kavango region.
  • Join astronomer, Dr. Gaedke, surrounded by desert, peering through his state-of-the-art telescopes to experience the tranquility and share in the wonders of the night sky. Stargazing Adventures operates tours from Swakopmund and Sossusvlei.
  • Visit the Namib Rand Nature Reserve, Africa’s first official Gold Tier International Dark Sky Reserve as another outstanding stargazing destination with little or no impact from light pollution.
  • Have dinner in the Namib desert before going on a guided night-walk.
  • Take a self-drive 4x4 safari trip and camp under the night skies. For tips on camping read this post about camping in Namibia
  • Or just sit quietly wherever you may find yourself, keeping and ear and an eye out for the wonders of the night.

Find out more about Namibia's wildlife by downloading our Namibia Wildlife Experiences Planning Guide and get more activity ideas by downloading our Namibia Adventure Planning Guide

Special thanks to Mark Paxton, conservationist and lover of the wild, for his time and contributions to this post.

Namibia Travel Planning Checklist

  
  

Want to be sure you've got everything organised before your holiday in Namibia? Here's a handy checklist covering everything from visas and driving licenses to vaccinations and currency to make sure your trip goes as smoothly as possible.

Then all that's left to do is pack - and get excited!

Two months before departure:

  • Visit your doctor or a travel clinic to check your vaccinations are up-to-date. If you are travelling from an affected country, you will need to present a Yellow Fever Certificate upon arrival, obtained at least 14 days beforehand.

  • Check your route - visitors to the north and north-east are likely to need anti-malarial medication.

  • Your passport needs to have a minimum of six months validity when entering Namibia, so check if you need to renew it. Namibia border officials require one full blank page, but South Africa requires at least two - so be sure you have a minimum of three blank pages.

  • Most nationalities can obtain a visa upon entry to Namibia, but if you are planning to work or study in Namibia or stay longer than 90 days, contact the Namibia High Commission or Embassy in your country to obtain the correct visa. Once your passport is stamped, check that the entry and exit date are correct - sometimes it can be less than 90 days.

Passport stamps

One month before departure:

  • Purchase comprehensive travel insurance, and check the small print. You may need to upgrade if you decide to participate in higher-risk activities such as quad biking, skydiving, windsurfing or sandboarding, so check that these and other adventure activities are covered by your policy.

  • US and UK drivers licences are valid in Namibia - bring a paper copy if planning to hire a car. You will need an International Drivers Licence if a) you are planning to be in Namibia for more than 90 days, b) you plan to work here, c) your licence is not in English.

Quad biking in Namib Desert

Two weeks before departure:

  • Make colour photocopies of your passport. Visitors are required to carry photo ID, so this is a safer option than carrying your passport with you at all times.

  • Note down emergency numbers - 211111 (Windhoek), 10111 (elsewhere) in case you need medical assistance.

  • Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted at ATMs and at hotels and supermarkets in the city. If you would like to carry cash, the South African Rand is valid currency in Namibia, and equal in value to the Namibian Dollar, so you can purchase SA Rand to take with you. Note: Namibian Dollars are not legal tender in South Africa.

  • Electrical plugs are the same as South Africa: 220v type "M" plugs with three round pins. It is a good idea to try and purchase an adaptor before travelling, especially if your devices do not come with standard US or European plugs (ie. if you are from the UK), as you may not be able to find the correct adaptor once in Namibia.

 One week before departure:

  • Be sure you have the right clothes for the right season - summer temperatures can reach over 40 degrees centigrade, while in winter, nighttime temperatures can plummet below zero! So bring plenty of warm layers, hats and gloves as well as t-shirts, sunglasses and sandals. Sunscreen and a sun hat are advised whatever the season.

  • Charge all your camera batteries and wipe your memory cards - you want to be ready to photograph as soon as you hit the ground.

  • Get excited and annoy all your friends by talking non-stop about your amazing trip!

Photography in Namibia

More Pre-Travel Tips:

For more advice on preparing for your Namibian adventure, download our Namibia Travel Planning Guide.

Got a specific question? Contact a Namibia Specialist near you!

Travelling during the winter months? Take a look at our packing guide.

Visit our FAQs page for more information about travelling in Namibia

EXTREME NAMIBIA - Some of the World's Most COMPLEX Languages

  
  

In this weekly EXTREME NAMIBIA blog series we explore some of our country's extremes, and share with you practical information on how you can come and discover them for yourself.

Are you one of those people who like to pick up a bit of the local lingo when you travel? Do you pack a phrasebook and attempt to order your lunch in the native language? Do you like to greet people on the street? Well, in Namibia that might be a little harder than you think...

Namibia's San, Damara and Nama people speak what are recognised as some of the world's most ancient and complicated languages. Even the linguistically blessed are likely to struggle getting their mouths around these words - as not only are they unrelated to other languages outside southern Africa - they involve speaking with clicks! Here's a mini guide to help you out with some of the world's most complex phonetics.

A Quick Guide to Namibia's Click Languages

Namibia's Damara and Nama people speak Khoekhoe, while the San, also known as the Bushmen, speak various related languages, depending on the tribe. Khoekhoe has four click sounds, written |, ǂ, ! and ||, but even speakers of this language are baffled by the San - who use at least seven clicks! Even worse, getting your clicks mixed up spells trouble, as the same word with a different click has a completely different meaning.

Khoekhoe language lesson

For example:

  • hara = swallow

  • !hara = check out

  • |hara = dangle

  • ǂhara = repulse

Yikes! Fortunately for visitors, English is Namibia's official language so you won't have to master the world's most complex tongue! However, if you are up for a bit of a challenge, we've found some tutorials that might help you, or at least give you a bit of an insight into what Namibia sounds like:

Learn how to write and pronounce the Khoekhoe clicks:

Count to ten in Khoekhoe:


Listen to the San:

Facts about click languages and their speakers:

  • In Namibia, there are around 100,000 Damara, 60,000 Nama and 27,000 San, so you are sure to hear their languages on your travels!

  • It was suggested that the clicks developed as a way for hunters to communicate across the savannah - when spoken quietly the clicks sound less like speech and more like a broken branch, whih is less likely to disturb prey.

     

San hunters at a living museum

  • The languages are considered so complex because the clicking sounds are made at the same time as the consonant sounds, so you have to train your mouth to do two things at once!

  • Khoekhoe is a national language in Namibia. Many schools use it, and some universities teach in Khoekhoe.

Practical Information:

  • Meet the Damara and San at a Living Culture Museum, to learn more about their language as well as their culture and traditions.

  • Take a township tour in Mondesa, Swakopmund, to meet Damara and Nama residents and have an introduction to Khoekhoe in their home.

  • Stay at a joint venture lodge in Damaraland, such as Damaraland Camp. The Damara community members who manage the lodges have formed their own choirs - composed of managers, chefs and waiting staff! They entertain guests upon arrival and at mealtimes with the most wonderful songs - sung with clicks, of course.

Kolmanskop - Swallowed by the Dunes

  
  

The "ghost town" of Kolmanskop in southern Namibia is one of our most photogenic locations. Its existence is due to one man - Namibian worker Zacharias Lewala - who found a diamond here in 1908 and showed it to his German boss. Realising the area was full of diamonds, the German government prohibited entry to virtually the whole of Namibia's southern coast - and named it "Sperrgebiet" - meaning "forbidden zone".

Kolmanskop was built in this gem-rich land, in German colonial style, complete with all modern facilities, including a hospital, ballroom, casino, ice factory and sports center. Its tram and x-ray machine were the first in Africa, funded by the diamond wealth.

The town was abandoned almost sixty years ago as the diamond supply was exhausted, and Kolmanskop gradually succumbed to the timeless power of the dunes. Though still in the forbidden zone, visitors can access the ghost town - with a permit - from the nearby coastal town of deritz. Our advice? Bring your camera to capture some spectacular scenes!

Here is a gallery of images shot in Kolmanskop by James McCaul.

Kolmanskop, Namibia

Kolmanskop, Namibia

Kolmanskop, Namibia

Kolmanskop, Namibia

Kolmanskop, Namibia

Kolmanskop, Namibia

Kolmanskop, Namibia

World Pangolin Day

  
  

Pangolin waking up

Waking pangolin by Marc Eschenlohr

Is it a pine cone? Is it an artichoke? No - it's a pangolin! And February 15th is World Pangolin Day.

But - what is a pangolin?

Pangolins are seriously odd creatures. Though they are scaly, they are not reptiles - they are mammals. The scales are useful as when the pangolin is threatened it rolls into a ball with the scales acting as impenetrable armour. Anyone who tries to prise the pangolin open is likely to get cut on the scales' sharp edges!

Pangolin self-defence

Pangolin defending itself from lions by Sandip kumar

It's good that the scales are sharp as the pangolin can't defend itself with its teeth - because it doesn't have any! So how does it eat? Fortunately, the pangolin's main diet is ants and termites, so the teeth aren't necessary. What is needed though is the pangolin's extremely long tongue - measuring up to 40cm! - which is covered in a sticky substance so that the insects get stuck. A pangolin can consume up to 70 million insects per year! The tongue is so long that it starts in the abdomen, and it is also used to catch insects from between its scales.

Pangolin

Pangolin by Orin Zebest

This curious creature is found in many countries in Asia and Africa - including Namibia. However, their numbers are threatened due to habitat loss, being hunted for their meat, and being trafficked to China, where their scales are believed to have medicinal qualities.

Find out more and show your support on the links below!

EXTREME NAMIBIA - The World's Second EMPTIEST Country

  
  

In this weekly EXTREME NAMIBIA blog series we explore some of our country's extremes, and share with you practical information on how you can come and discover them for yourself.

We think of travel as going in search of something - we are lured to a destination because of all that exists there - the wildlife, culture, events, restaurants, monuments, museums... And yet Namibia draws visitors for precisely the opposite reason. They literally travel here in search of... nothing.

Namibia is the second least densely populated country in the world, second only to Mongolia. It covers a vast 825,400 square kilometers yet has a population of just 2.1 million - an average of two people per square kilometer - which leaves space for a mind-boggling amount of nothing. Those who choose to fly over the empty expanses - oceans of dunes, endless deserts, fog-draped coastlines, barren rocks and mountains - will realise just how little there really is here. But many of Namibia's world-class lodges and camps have used this vacant space to their advantage, and played with their isolation and 360-degree empty views to create truly spectacular overnight experiences. Here are some of our favorites.

Wolwedans Collection

Wolwedans has four lodges, all in the remote NamibRand Nature Reserve. The NamibRand is so empty that is is considered to have the darkest sky in the world - no small achievement! Each open-sided cabin faces out into the red dunes of the reserve, so you can sit outside on the cool desert evenings and enjoy the sunsets and passing oryx from the privacy of your own deck.

Wolwedans Dune Lodge

Damaraland Camp

Located in one of Namibia's bleakest regions, Damaraland has neither dunes nor fairy circles to break up the nothingness. But what it does have is this spectacular community-owned lodge, with its charismatic owner Maggie who, along with her charming staff accompany your meals and drinks with wonderful singing performances in their native click language. Spontaneous bush breakfasts and desert sundowners in the middle of this wilderness really do make you feel like you are the only people on the planet.

Damaraland Camp, Namibia

Mowani Lodge

With its Flintstones-esque surroundings and cabins perched on a cliff overlooking a boulder-strewn valley, settings don't come much more dramatic than this! Mowani's cabins are so private that some of the suites even have outdoor baths and showers - soak up the scenery in wonderful isolation.

Mowani Lodge, Namibia

AndBeyond Desert Lodge

From outdoor baths to... a loo with a view! The luxurious, glass-fronted bunglalows of And Beyond's Desert Lodge each face out into the surreal scenery of the Namib Desert, with its bizarre conical hill. An artificial waterhole attracts herds of oryx and zebra day and night - a thrilling, live television subsitute that you can even enjoy from the secluded glass-fronted bathroom!

AndBeyond Desert Lodge

Ongava Lodges

The Ongava Game Reserve borders Etosha National Park, but this private reserve receives fewer visitors. Ongava covers around 325 square kilometers, yet contains just two small lodges and a camp. The endless views from the clifftop accommodations are deceptive though. These mopane woodlands are anything but empty - and at night visitors wil be treated to a floodlit theatre around the waterhole, with rhino, giraffe and bushbuck among the many nocturnal visitors. Little Ongava is the most isolated of the lodges - lucky guests can hang out on the cliff edge in their own secluded pool.

Ongava Lodge

Practical Information

Namibia Featured in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2013!

  
  

SI Swimsuit Deadvlei

Model Adaora poses with the Namibian flag in Deadvlei

Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Edition is a highly anticipated publication. Featuring a winning combination of exotic locations and models in swimwear, it reaches more than 70 million people annually.

This year’s 50th anniversary edition highlights seven continents and 17 wonders.

Namibia was chosen as the African destination, and in June 2012, three supermodels and a top fashion photographer shot on location at Sossusvlei, the NamibRand Nature reserve, along Namibia’s dramatic coastline and at the mysterious ghost town of Kolmanskop.

Behind the scenes video about the photo shoots

Having trouble viewing the video? You can watch it here!

Those lucky enough to participate in the shoot had one word to say about the pictures taken, “Amazing!” (It is unclear if they were referring to the models, the landscape or perhaps, both).

This year, the Swimsuit Edition will also be offered on four digital platforms, including a tablet edition and iPhone app with 360 degree views of body-painted athletes. Travel Channel will premiere “Sports Illustrated: The Making of Swimsuit ’13 - 7 Continents, 17 Wonders” on Sunday, February 17 at 8:00pm Eastern Time (GMT -5).

  • Want to travel like a supermodel? Check out our featured tours on our Facebook page!

  • See more images from the SI Swimsuit Edition's Namibia photo shoot here.

Five Reasons to Book a Township Tour in Namibia

  
  

Most visitors come to Namibia for its wide open spaces, its magnificent landscapes and its abundant wildlife. But on your way across this vast country, it's always worth spending a morning taking a tour of quite a different kind - in a township.

1. See the Real Namibia

Market in Katutura

Soweto Market, Katutura

Namibia's emptiness is breathtaking - but of course, the majority of Namibians are not found in the vast desert expanses. If you really want to discover what daily life is like, you need to spend some time in town. In both Windhoek and Swakopmund, more people inhabit the townships than the cities themselves, and they are growing much more rapidly. Though their dark past goes back to the apartheid era, the townships are now thriving communities with their own market places, nightlife, restaurants - and even malls - and a township tour is a safe and educational way to discover the culture here.

2. Sample Traditional Food

Traditional Namibian food

Xwama Cultural Village Restaurant, Katutura

Braais, biltong and game steaks are delicious, and you are sure to have your fill in Namibia's restaurants and lodges. But for a more traditional taste of Namibia, you need to step outside the tourist hotspots. Township tours often include a some taster dishes - including mahangu (millet) porride, bean soup, and ekaka - a delicious wild spinach. The brave can try the Smiley Head (a whole goat head!) or the infamous mopane worms - spicy, fried and surprisingly tasty. Don't miss out on a glass of homebrew omalovu beer!

3. Find out What is Inside a Herero Lady's Hat!

Herero dress

Tour of Mondesa, near Swakopmund

A visit to a Herero home is an opportunity for a fascinating cultural exchange. The Herero follow two religions - Christianity and they traditional "Holy Fire", and they are also polygamous, although the first wife is allowed to choose subsequent wives so they are all friends (or even sisters!). During your chat, be sure to inquire about the Herero's unusual clothes - military uniform for men, and striking, colorful Victorian-style dresses for women. More importantly, be sure to ask what the strange, horned hats represent - and what is inside them!

4. Get a Crash Course in Clicks

Click language lesson

Language lesson in a Nama household, Mondesa

The Damara and Nama people speak using clicks, and before entering their homes you will be taught how to greet them in the local language, so get ready to click away! As if remembering a new word wasn't difficult enough, there are four types of click, and using the wrong one can change the meaning of the word entirely!

5. Give Something Back

Community projects

Community project in the Democratic Resettlement Community (DRC), Swakopmund

Tour companies operating in the townships support the people who live there, and part of each tour fee is invested in community projects such as kindergartens; paying the local families involved in the tour; and supporting local initiatives, such as handcraft workshops with womens groups.

On the edge of the townships there are "informal settlements" originally intended as temporary shelters for those arriving from rural areas, but many have become more permanent settlers in these areas which lack basic facilities such as electricity, and are dependent on shared water sources. These areas in particular are supported by the tour operators, who may be funding community centres, education and health initiatives for Namibia's poorest residents. Your guide will be able to tell you more about how your chosen tour company is involved.

The two tour operators below are highly recommended:

Katu Tours - Bike tours of Katutura township, outside Windhoek

  • Tours departs at 8:30am Tuesday to Sunday (3-12 people), clients must arrive 30 minutes earlier.

  • Starting/ending point: Penduka Project at Goreangab Dam, Katutura (See Map below)

  • The tour takes 3.5 hours and covers a total distance of around 7km at a relaxed pace. 

Hata Angu Cultural Tours - tours of Mondesa township, outside Swakopmund

  • The tour incorporates visits to the houses of Nama, Damara and Herero people, a shebeen and a restaurant serving Owamb food, for a complete cultural experience.

  • Daytime and evening tours are available.

  • You will be collected from your accommodation in Swakopmund and driven to Mondesa.

EXTREME NAMIBIA - The World's First People

  
  

In this weekly EXTREME NAMIBIA blog series we explore some of our country's extremes, and share with you practical information on how you can come and discover them for yourself.


San Namibia 2

San hunter 

The San people – also known as bushmen – are southern Africa’s only truly indigenous people. But more than that – genetic testing has proved that they are one of the groups from which all known modern humans evolved.

Today, around 35,000 San live in Namibia, forming six tribes, each with its own language and customs. Though many San have been displaced and are abandoning their hunter-gatherer lifestyle to become farmers and laborers, there is much we can still learn from them. Their ancient culture, customs, art and hunting techniques have taught us much about extinct cultures, and allowed us to interpret what millennia-old cave paintings and rock engravings might have represented, for example. But perhaps more importantly, at a time when many species are threatened with extinction and resources are not enough to support a growing population, the San’s truly sustainable traditional lifestyle may be able to teach us how to live in harmony with nature once again.

At One with Nature – Survival in the Desert

Namib desert

Namibian Desert

One of the things that amazes visitors to Namibia is nature’s ability to survive – thrive, even – in the harshest of climates. In a vast land which is starved of water for most of year, where temperatures soar during the day and drop below freezing at night, it is astonishing to discover that plant and animal life flourish here. But for thousands of years, humans, too, have made this land their home.

The San are greatly admired for their hunting and tracking skills, for their incredible endurance and their profound knowledge of the inhospitable environment they inhabit. They read the environment as we would a book; each track or blade of grass telling a whole story. How long does a spider take to re-spin his web after a springbok has snagged it? How long does it take termites to reconstruct their mounds after a warthog has trampled it? How long does it take for damp earth to dry, for a branch to spring back into place? That’s how long ago the prey passed.

 

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San trackers

The composition of an animal’s dung belies its age and health; tracks indicate an injured individual. The San can run for hours after a herd of antelope, covering any terrain. Once they have targeted their prey with a poison arrow, they will have to track it for more hours or even days until it finally perishes – so knowing exactly which gemsbok or giraffe to follow is essential. Snares, traps and staking out burrows are other hunting techniques – honed to perfection over hundreds of generations.

In this land of scarce water, the San know which roots can be scraped or squeezed to quench their thirst. They dig deep holes in damp sand to create “sip wells”, where water is sucked up through hollow grass and then stored in an ostrich egg. A fire is all that’s needed to set up camp for a night; a few simple huts are a temporary village.

Of course, as they are moved from their ancestral lands and have to adopt new lifestyles to adapt to modern culture, these life-saving skills and knowledge are in danger of being lost forever. Namibia’s Living Culture Museums are one way in which the San culture is being preserved – shared with tourists and even more importantly, passed on to the next generation. Visitors learn about hunting and trapping techniques, making fire, building a shelter and identifying medicinal plants. The entrance fees and proceeds from craft sales support the community. And the San are able to continue using their desert skills to survive.

Living Hunters Museum, Namibia

A visitor learns to hunt with the San at the Living Hunters Museum

Facts about the San

  • “San” means “outsider.” It was the word that neighboring, pastoral communities used to describe this nomadic people

  • There are around 90,000 San in southern Africa today. The majority live in Botswana, with the rest in Namibia, South Africa and Angola.

  • Their genetic diversity is exceptionally high, which points to them being the ancestors to all humans throughout the world.

Find Out More

Five Things To Do in Etosha National Park

  
  

Visiting Etosha National Park is one of Namibia's most exceptional adventures. This wildlife sanctuary of over 27,000 square kilometers has a protected status that stretches back over a hundred years. Etosha provides a new experience even for seasoned wildlife viewers, and unlike many other African parks, you can explore the vast expanses and numerous waterholes in your own vehicle at your own pace, enjoying a more personal experience with nature.

Etosha Lions

While the opportunities at Etosha are endless, here are five things we think are great ways to experience this amazing destination:

1. Join the Etosha "Night Life" at Okaukuejo Water Hole

Okaukuejo Camp (pronounced Oh-kah-KEW-yoh) is located just within the park's southernmost entrance, Andersson Gate, and serves as the park's administrative hub. Many visitors to Etosha choose to make use of Okaukuejo's rustic camp site or the chic bungalows for lodging, but the main attraction is the Okaukeujo waterhole. Throughout the day, animals dip in and out to quench their thirst. The big show begins at dusk when floodlights are turned on to transform the waterhole into one of Namibia's greatest stages. You can kick back on the benches that surround the waterhole with a Windhoek lager and watch as the wildlife - unphased by the light - slinks and strolls out of the darkness to the banks of the spring-fed pool. Towering giraffes perch precariously while jackals skittishly circle the perimeter. Rhinos emerge from the distance and tussle for turf throughout the night with heavy thuds. It's not uncommon to see large herds of elephants sharing the pool with lions. Okaukuejo is a must see if you're interested in knowing what Etosha's four-legged residents are up to when the sun goes down.

Okaukeujo Water Hole Giraffe Elephant

2. Cool Off at Halali

Etosha gets HOT during the day, and it's rare that you'll see too many creatures wandering around when the sun is high in the sky. They know the best thing to do is find shade and cool off. Follow their lead by visiting Halali Camp at lunch time. Halali is about 45 minutes from Okaukeujo and also offers overnight accommodation. When you arrive, check in at the Halali waterhole's elevated viewing stand. Pending no surprise arrivals, change into your bathing costume and take a dip in the cool waters of the swimming pool. You'll be able to beat the heat and relax amid the camp's quiet, Mopane tree-covered surroundings. Halali also has a restaurants and bar that can help you meet all your body's other needs while you escape the sun.

Halali Swimming Pool

3. Discover the native Hai||Om Culture

For many thousands of years, the Hai||Om San (or Bushmen) inhabited the areas that now constitute the park. Their intricate society of hunters and gathers attained a rich understanding of local biodiversity - how plants could be used for medicine, and the patterns in animal behavior. In the 1950s, the local Hai||Om population were removed from Etosha, though their cultural identity still strongly remains attached to the area. As their numbers dwindle, the Xoms-|Omis Project has been working with the Hai||om to document the knowledge and skills passed down from generation to generation. Get a uniquely Hai||Om perspective on the plants, animals, history, and geography of Etosha by referencing these guides available to download for free from the Xoms-|Omis Project website. 

Hai//om San Bushmen Etosha

4. Dance with Dust Devils

Driving through the backroads of Etosha, nature often crosses your path. Sometimes it's a pride of lions lazily moving to another shady spot. Occasionally tree limbs will find themselves strewn across the tarmac. But nothing is quite as unexpected as seeing a towering column of dust come whizzing past you. Dust devils are the fairweather cousins of tornados - generally harmless and appearing when it's warm and sunny. Hot air rising from the ground mixes with a pocket of cool air and causes the circulation that creates an upward spiral of motion that takes along dirt, sand, and whatever else is laying around. Etosha's flat geography and wide, open skies are the perfect conditions to stir up these ephemeral whirlwinds. Etosha's dust devils can reach 5 meters wide and spin up to 70km/h - though most are much weaker. These natural phenomena are generally innocuous - except for the dusty mess they can cause in your vehicle if your windows aren't rolled up quickly enough. One of the best places to see dust devils dance is the western side of the park near Ozonjuitji m'Bari water hole.

 

5. Take in the Expanse of the Etosha Pan

When you arrive at the Etosha Pan, it's easy to see why the name roughly translates into "great white space." This 120km-long dry lake bed dominates Etosha's geography. The dizzying experience of being the only vertical object on the horizon is exceptionally humbling. The salt that encrusts the parched mud gives off a startlingly white sheen, making it difficult to see where the pan stops and the sky begins. On rare occasions, rains that sweep across Etosha will leave a small film of water across the pan that lures greater flamingos.

 Etosha Pan

Practical Information

"Simply the Same" - Photography Exhibition in Windhoek

  
  

Chrstian Goltz exhibition FNCCDiscover contemporary Namibian culture during your stay in Windhoek! This week, an exhibition by Namibian photographer Christian Goltz opened at the Franco-Namibian Cultural Centre (FNCC).

"Simply the Same" is Goltz's first solo show, and he explains his images in this way: "I try to see and then make simple photographs of what cannot be explained. Normally, it must be beautiful and Namibian. Women, leopards, a milk bush in the Namib..."

The exhibition showcases award-winning Goltz's recent work in outdoor portraiture, wildlife and landscape, establishing what he considers to be the inherent connection between these subjects - natural beauty.

Stop by FNCC on your way through Windhoek - and get some inspiration for your own photographic safari!

See the Show:

  • Duration: 28 January - 27 February

  • Location: 118 Robert Mugabe Avenue, Windhoek

  • Entrance: FREE

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